Lenny Kravitz 5

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Lenny Kravitz 5The fifth studio album by Lenny Kravitz, released in 1998 is aptly titled 5 and saw the talented artist return to top commercial success as well as expand his world wide audience. This winner of two Grammy Awards, successfully found Kravitz both establishing himself as a genuine funk and R&B artist while also advancing his incredibly diverse fusion of rock and soul which he had established early on in his recording career. The result is an accessible and accomplished work that offers an array of sonic candy.

Following the success of Kravitz’s 1989 debut, Let Love Rule and the 1991 follow-up record, Mama Said, Kravitz advanced his songwriting and production projects for multiple artists. In 1993 he released Are You Gonna Go My Way, which reached number 12 on the album charts and spawned several singles. This album was also the initial to feature guitarist Craig Ross and was partially recorded in The Bahamas where Kravitz would eventually build a recording studio. Kravitz’s fourth album, Circus, was released in 1995 but was a bit of a commercial disappointment.

With 5, Kravitz both aimed to return to commercial relevance and, for the first time, he embraced digital technology and sampling. The album was recorded in both Kravitz-owned studios in New York City and The Bahamas with the assistance of engineer Terry Manning.


5 by Lenny Kravitz
Released: May 12, 1998 (Island)
Produced by: Lenny Kravitz
Recorded: Ghetto Lounge Studios and Compass Point Studios, Bahamas, 1997–1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Live
Supersoulfighter
I Belong to You
Black Velveteen
If You Can’t Say No
Thinking of You
Take Time
Fly Away
It’s Your Life
Straight Cold Player
Little Girl’s Eyes
You’re My Flavor
Can We Find a Reason?
American Woman
Without You
Lenny Kravitz – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Drums
Craig Ross – Guitars, Keyboards
Jack Daley – BassLenny Kravitz 5

 

 

“Live” was co-written by Kravitz and Ross as a riff driven guitar rocker with a Rick-James–like funk approach. The rich arrangement includes a brass section, a choppy bass rhythm by Jack Daley and a long saxophone lead by Harold Todd late in the song. “Supersoulfighter” finds Kravitz fully immersing in the genre of old as he personally provides soul synths, sound effects, a cool clavichord and a steady drum beat. In contrast, “I Belong to You” starts with electronic percussion soon accompanied by some R&B bass with not too much more variation.

A heavy synth rhythm and some electronic treatment on vocals are prevalent on the track “Black Velveteen”, which later features a Bowie-like vocal delivery. “If You Can’t Say No” employs maximum modern R&B and strategically placed sonic décor (clav, piano, organ, etc.) and a fantastic bluesy guitar lead, while ultimately still being a singer’s song. The sad and emotional ballad “Thinking of You” was dedicated to Kravitz’s mother, Roxie Roker, who died of cancer in 1995, while “Take Time” features a slow, sloshy drum beat accompanied by psychedelic keys and an overall mechanical background to soulful vocals, There is obviously a heavy Prince influence on this latter one, especially during the heavy rock guitar lead.

While 5 is pretty solid throughout,  the second half of the album is where real gems lie with rock, funk and soul musical diversity. The guitar driven rocker “Fly Away” was an immediate hit with its catchy melody, interesting slap bass and a potent drum beat. Originally composed as a ballad, this revised funky track also makes great use of effects on the vocals, which helped it ascend to the Top 20 and won Kravitz a Grammy Award in 1999 for Best Male Rock Performance. Though much less popular, “It’s Your Life” is equally as excellent as its predecessor as a heavy funk rocker with some synth horns and melodic verses over a pointed bass line. “Straight Cold Player” is a quasi-instrumental driven by a complex drum beat by guest Cindy Blackman, while “Little Girl’s Eyes” is a slow soul ballad with much synth atmosphere and a long outro with a guitar lead.

Lenny Kravitz, 1998

The original release of 5 wrapped up with two more excellent tunes. “You’re My Flavor” features a unique blend of rock with bass moving faster than guitars in verses and a melodic hard guitar riff in choruses. “Can We Find a Reason?” is an acoustic track with trippy lead guitar overtones, a heavy Hammond organ and a Gospel like backing vocals to augment Kravitz’s droning, alternative rock guitar lead and soulful, peacenik vocals. In 1999, the album was re-issued to include Kravitz’s smash hit cover of The Guess Who’s “American Woman” and the acoustic ballad “Without You”.

A Top 40 album, 5 spawned further commercial success for Kravitz, with the subsequent 2000 Greatest Hits album being his most successful album, selling nearly 11 million copies worldwide.

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1998 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1998 albums.

 

Boggy Depot by Jerry Cantrell

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Boggy Depot by Jerry CantrellAfter over a decade in Alice in Chains, guitarist Jerry Cantrell set out to forge his debut solo record in 1998 with Boggy Depot. This was done more out of necessity than by choice, as Alice in Chains was in a period of musical hiatus due to the substance and health issues of lead vocalist Layne Stanley, making a group album impossible. The Cantrell album features a collection of tracks fused with simple riffs treated with methodical sonic textures and some expert lead guitar sections.

Cantrell and Staley founded Alice in Chains in 1987 and the group reached international recognition in the nineties with the albums Facelift (1990), Dirt (1992), Jar of Flies (1994), and Alice in Chains (1995). Through these successful albums, Cantrell began to share a minor lead vocal role in addition to his composing and guitar work. However, the group rarely played live during the mid 1990s especially after Staley was hospitalized from an overdose in July 1996.

Around the same time, Cantrell reluctantly began work on his first solo record in 1996, enlisting the help of producer Toby Wright. Alice in Chains bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney both contributed to its recording. Together, they worked on the album through 1997 with release dates delayed a few times before Boggy Depot finally dropped in April 1998 and got its title from a ghost town in Oklahoma


Boggy Depot by Jerry Cantrell
Released: April 7, 1998 (Columbia)
Produced by: Toby Wright & Jerry Cantrell
Recorded: Studio D, Sausalito, CA and Studio X, Index, WA, April–November 1997
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Dickeye
Cut You In
My Song
Settling Down
Breaks My Back
Jesus Hands
Devil by His Side
Keep the Light On
Satisfy
Hurt a Long Time
Between
Cold Piece
Jerry Cantrell – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Rex Brown – Bass
Sean Kinney – Drums

Boggy Depot by Jerry Cantrell

 

 

Boggy Depot‘s opening track, “Dickeye”, starts with some intense mechanical effects before breaking into a bright and steady, hard rock groove with melodic vocals throughout. This is followed by the hit song “Cut You In”, which is built on a choppy, unplugged riff that repeats throughout the entirety of the song, varying only in its level of intensity and with some cool sonic elements thrown in here and there. The song’s lyrics are directed at a subject who rides along during the good times but quickly bails when the situation sours.

“My Song” is the closest thus far to an Alice in Chains tune with philosophical lyrics sung to a cool, moody and grungy vibe that eventually elevates to a sonic crescendo. This was the second single from the album and it reached the Top 10 of the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. “Settling Down” takes a different turn from previous songs, built on Cntrell’s piano and fretless bass by John Norwood Fisher, while still having an overall haunting feel and featuring a fine extended bluesy guitar lead in the song’s heart. “Breaks My Back” was another mellow and methodical tune with some dark beauty but also unfortunately treated vocals that do get burdensome after a while.

Jerry Cantrell in 1998

The remainder of the album features some lesser known songs that vary in degrees of quality. “Jesus Hands” is slow, sloshy, hypnotic grunge, with “Devil by His Side” and “Keep the Light On” more upbeat and melodic. “Satisfy”. Originally introduced during the recording sessions for the 1995 Alice in Chains album, “Hurt a Long Time” was written about the suicide of Cantrell’s cousin. “Between” incorporates piano, organ, and country elements with sparkling electric leads, while the closer “Cold Piece” uses of horns and saxophone by Angelo Moore and features a guest appearance by Primus bassist Les Claypool.

Boggy Depot reached the Top 40 in the US and Canada and, after selling over 40,000 copies in its first week, stayed on the album charts for 14 weeks. More importantly, the album filled a void left by Alice in Chains during the group’s extended hiatus which stretched into the new century.

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1998 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1998 albums.

 

You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish by REO Speedwagon

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You Can Tune a Piano but You Cant Tuna Fish by REO SpeedwagoOften derided for its ludicrous title and album cover, You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish was nonetheless the most important benchmark for REO Speedwagon. Released in 1978, this was the seventh studio album by the Illinois-based rock band who had worked relentlessly throughout the decade but, prior to this record, failed to make the Top 40. You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish peaked at number 29 and went on to achieve double platinum status in the US.

Named after a classic flat bed truck, REO Speedwagon was formed in 1967 at the University of Illinois in Champaign by keyboardist Neal Doughty and drummer Alan Gratzer as a cover band playing in campus bars, fraternity parties, and university events. After several lineup shifts, guitarist Gary Richrath joined in late 1970 and the regional popularity of the band grew tremendously, leading to a deal with Epic Records and the band’s self-titled debut album in 1971. The group twice replaced lead singers before Kevin Cronin permanently joined the group in January 1976. The following year, the group released a live album and relocated to Los Angeles.

Recording of You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish took place in Illinois and California in late 1977 and early 1978. This album was the first to feature bassist Bruce Hall and it was co-produced by Cronin and Richrath along with Paul Grupp and John Boylan.


You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish by REO Speedwagon
Released: March 16, 1978 (Epic)
Produced by: Kevin Cronin, Gary Richrath, Paul Grupp, & John Boylan
Recorded: Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles & Paragon Recording Studios, Chicago, 1977-1978
Side One Side Two
Roll with the Changes
Time for Me to Fly
Runnin’ Blind
Blazin’ Your Own Trail Again
Sing to Me
Lucky for You
Do You Know Where Your Woman Is Tonight?
The Unidentified Flying Tuna Trot
Say You Love Me or Say Goodnight
Group Musicians
Kevin Cronin – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Gary Richrath – Guitars
Neal Doughty – Keyboards
Bruce Hall – Bass, Vocals
Alan Gratzer – Drums, Vocals

 

The album launches with “Roll with the Changes”, a piano-based rocker by Cronin which would soon go on to become a classic rock staple. Richrath’s heavy, whining guitar is accented throughout with Dougherty taking his turn with a Hammond organ lead and a rich backing chorus belting out the catchy counter hook. The album’s other anchor comes next with “Time for Me to Fly”, a classic breakup song that is built like an early prototype for some of the better eighties power ballads which would come later. Built on the pleasant musical combo of Cronin’s 12-string acoustic and Dougherty’s Moog synthesizer along with fine melodic, vocals and a harmonized double bridge, which bookmarks the slight guitar lead. While both of these tracks would go on to be classics, they did not receive initial pop notoriety as both failed to chart in the Top 40.

Richrath’s first composition, “Runnin’ Blind”, was co-written by Debbie Mackron and is highlighted by a pure, thick guitar sound. “Blazin’ Your Own Trail Again” is another acoustic ballad with some heavier elements added on top for a harder rock effect and high pop accessibility. The original first side concludes with Richrath’s short but heavy “Sing to Me”.

REO Speedwagon in 1978

Side two is filled with hard rock material and is anchored by a couple of tracks with extended jams. Although lyrically weak, “Lucky for You” is musically supreme with some excellent bass by Hall as well as later harmonized lead guitars which sheppard in the extended jams of the second half of track. After the Southern rock tinged “Do You Know Where Your Woman Is Tonight?” and the filler instrumental “The Unidentified Flying Tuna Trot”, comes the closer “Say You Love Me or Say Goodnight” a strong, pure rocker highlighted by Dougherty’s piano lead and guest Lon Price‘s intermittent saxophone licks.

You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish set the stage for super-stardom during the 1980s. REO Speedwagon also started to morph from hard rock to more pop-oriented and ballad-centric material as the new decade unfolded.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

1978 Images

 

Yield by Pearl Jam

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Yield by Pearl JamPearl Jam‘s fifth studio album, Yield, has been viewed as a commercial rebound for the band after a slight drop in popularity during the mid 1990s. The album saw a return to the more straightforward grunge/rock of the group’s early work with structured compositions and a deliberative recording process. The album’s title and theme was influenced by Daniel Quinn’s novel Ishmael which proposes the idea of yielding to the gods and nature to “save the world”.

Pearl Jam found instant acclaim with their 1991 debut album Ten and continued this success with further hit albums Vs. (1993) and Vitalogy (1994). Through this period, the band members were never quite comfortable with their success and tried to temper their exposure by refusing to make videos for their single releases. When Ticketmaster refused to waive the service charges on concerts at major venues, Pearl Jam created from scratch outdoor venues in rural areas for several mid nineties tours.

Yied was recorded throughout the year 1997 at multiple studios in Atlanta, Georgia and their home city of Seattle, Washington. Producer Brendan O’Brien, who had worked with the band on their previous three records through 1996’s No Code. This album also continued the band’s revolving drummer situation as it was Pearl Jam’s last release with their third drummer Jack Irons.


Yield by Pearl Jam
Released: February 3, 1998 (Epic)
Produced by: Brendan O’Brien & Pearl Jam
Recorded: Studio Litho & Studio X, Seattle, Southern Tracks Recording & Doppler Studios, Atlanta, February–September 1997
Track Listing Group Musicians
Brain of J.
Faithfull
No Way
Given to Fly
Wishlist
Pilate
Do the Evolution
Untitled
MFC
Low Light
In Hiding
Push Me, Pull Me
All Those Yesterdays
Eddie Vedder – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Stone Gossard – Guitars, Bass Vocals
Mike McCready – Guitars
Jeff Ament – Bass, Vocals
Jack Irons – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Yield by Pearl Jam

 

 

Kicking things off, “Brain of J.” features a cool classic hard rock vibe led by the riffing of guitarist Mike McCready. “Faithfull” is another crisp rocker with a bit of a mid-seventies era Aerosmith feel through most of the track, although after a false ending comes a jazzy final verse coda with strummed guitar and bouncy bass by Jeff Ament. “No Way” follows, driven by a  steady drum beat and rotating guitar riff.

The song’s most indelible track, “Given to Fly” is fueled by a simple but sweet flange-effected guitar riff with marching drums by Irons and somber, alternative style vocal delivery by Eddie Vedder. This instant classic gains some nice intensity as it heads for the climatic hard rock hook and then nicely marches away after just two verses. The song topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks charts as well as peaked in the Top 30 of the U.S. pop charts. Vedder’s “Wishlist” was another minor hit as a simple and somber alternative pop song featuring an atmospheric, pedal drenched guitar lead. This is followed by “Pilate” with droning verses giving way to a Kinks-like rock chant in the chorus. The song is notable as founding member Ament’s first lyrical contribution to a Pearl Jam track to date.

Pearl Jam in 1998

The punk-like barking over two power chords of “Do the Evolution” breaks only for the chorus with Stone Gossard providing both guitar and bass on the track. Next comes a couple of short filler tracks before the fine “Low Light”, a song driven mainly by acoustic guitar with slight guitar effects and atmosphere, philosophical lyrics and a cool, odd waltz rhythm and timing. Gossard also provides music for “In Hiding”, featuring another unique arrangement and change of timing along with a good melody throughout, and the closing quasi-ballad “All Those Yesterdays”, which comes complete with an interesting arrangement and a showy guitar lead.

Yield reached the Top 10 on charts throughout the Western world, peaking at number two in the USA. Former Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog drummer Matt Cameron joined Pearl Jam for the 1998 Yield tour and remains with the group 20 years on.

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1998 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1998 albums.

 

Skyscraper by David Lee Roth

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Skyscraper by David Lee RothDavid Lee Roth‘s second full-length solo album, the commercially successful Skyscraper, has had mixed critical response since it was released in 1988. This album, while continuing much of the same good-time-hard-rock direction that Roth had personified throughout his career as a front man, also saw some subtle movement towards other sub-genres. Most of the compositions on Skyscraper were co-written by Roth and virtuoso lead guitarist Steve Vai.

Following the phenomenal success of Van Halen’s 1984, Roth decided he would give a solo project a go. In early 1985 he released Crazy from the Heat, a four-song EP of cover tunes, which was popular due mainly to innovative music videos and creative character roles. From this latter pool, Roth planned to create of feature-length film and, although the project fell through, the move played a part in Roth officially parting ways from Van Halen in on April 1985. Later that year Roth assembled a backing group consisting of Vai, bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Gregg Bissonette. This group along with long-time Van Halen producer Ted Templeman recorded and released the LP Eat ‘Em and Smile in 1986 to widespread commercial and critical success.

For the production Skyscraper, Roth and Vai took the producer reigns. Recorded at various studios in Southern California in late 1987, this new arrangement gave the duo much creative freedom to try differing approaches. The original 1988 LP contained ten tracks while subsequent CD reissues incorporated the 1985 hits “California Girls” and “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody” from Crazy from the Heat.


Skyscraper by David Lee Roth
Released: January 26, 1988 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Steve Vai & David Lee Roth
Recorded: Capitol Records Studio, Smoketree, SNS, Stucco Blue & Sunset S, Los Angeles, Spring–Autumn 1987
Side One Side Two
Knucklebones
Just Like Paradise
The Bottom Line
Skyscraper
Damn Good
Hot Dog and a Shake
Stand Up
Hina
Perfect Timing
Two Fools a Minute
Primary Musicians
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals
Steve Vai – Guitars
Brett Tuggle – Keyboards
Billy Sheehan – Bass, Vocals
Gregg Bissonette – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

Co-written by Bissonette, the opener “Knucklebones” features a crisp, flanged guitar riff by Vai along with his later harmonized lead. Overall, the song is pretty catchy but standard hard rock with the apt hook for an opener “get the show on the road”. The album’s biggest hit song, “Just Like Paradise”, follows. The composition, which was co-written by keyboardist Brett Tuggle, is accented by piano chords and features just enough catchy melodies and hook to propel it to the Top 10 on the US pop charts.

The rhythm-driven track “The Bottom Line” features a rapid double-kick drum and a rolling bass line by Sheehan, making it musically rewarding albeit a bit tacky lyrically. The title track “Skyscraper” features plenty of synth and vocal effects, rhythmic rudiments to add atmosphere and finely dissolves into a jazzy acoustic coda towards the end. The original first side finishes with the climatic ballad
“Damn Good”, perhaps the highlight of the album. Led by the harmonized acoustic of Vai performed with a slightly Eastern bend, the song overall features just the right mix of melody and synth effects with a nostalgic lyrical nod by Roth back to the Van Halen years.

David Lee Roth and Steve Vai

With “Hot Dog and a Shake”, the album returns to straight-up, good-time hard rock along with some obvious sexual innuendo. “Stand Up” goes in another direction as a pure eighties electronic pop with plenty of synth bass and brass motifs by Tuggle, the kind of sound that, ironically, Roth had criticized former band mate Eddie Van Halen for just a few years earlier. Industrial guitar tones dominate the intro to “Hina”, a unique track which results in one of the more interesting listens on this album. The album concludes with two more attempts at pop music, “Perfect Timing” and “Two Fools a Minute”, the latter featuring a more interesting musical arrangement complete with fret-less bass and bluesy guitars.

Although Skyscraper sold over two million copies and reached Billboard’s Top 10, the David Lee Roth band soon began to disintegrate with the departure of Sheehan soon after its release and Vai after its supporting tour. Roth’s solo career never again gained much traction and he eventually reunited with Van Halen.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

1988 Images

 

The Byrds 1968 Albums

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Buy Sweetheart of the Rodeo

The Byrds 1968 albums1968 was a transitional year for folk/rock group, The Byrds, in terms of both musical approach and lineup changes. During the year, the group released two albums, The Notorious Byrd Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo. While each of these albums have their own distinct sound individually, they are extraordinarily disparate collectively, with The Notorious Byrd Brothers having a folk/rock/psychedelic sound and Sweetheart of the Rodeo moving radically towards traditional country and bluegrass.

The Byrds hit their commercial peak during the mid 1960s with the albums Mr. Tambourine Man, Turn! Turn! Turn!, Fifth Dimension and Younger Than Yesterday, as well as the multiple hit singles spawned from these first four albums. These were also encapsulated  on a Greatest Hits compilation released late in 1967. The group subtly evolved during the time span between their 1964 founding and the beginning of 1968, moving from melodic folk/rock/pop driven by multiple guitar textures towards a more underground psychedelic sound with sprawling instrumentation.

Producer Gary Usher, who had first worked with the group on Younger Than Yesterday, produced both of the 1968 albums and (especially on The Notorious Byrd Brothers) employed much innovative studio experimentation. The Notorious Byrd Brothers was recorded in the Autumn of 1967 and it musically reaches the apex of the Byrds’ psychedelic endeavors. With a core folk rock skeleton, the succinct tracks on this album added subtle elements of baroque, jazz, country and the earliest elements of electronic music. While the album is lauded as one of the top albums by the Byrds, the recording sessions were plagued with tension, highlighted by the departure of drummer Michael Clarke and the firing of guitarist, vocalist and composer David Crosby due to his poor attendance at recording sessions and other controversial issues. Original band member Gene Clark, who had departed in early 1966, rejoined for a few weeks during production of The Notorious Byrd Brothers but swiftly left the group again.

For Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the group added Gram Parsons, a pioneer of country rock. As such, the the Byrds’ overall sound evolved rapidly in that direction and they migrated to Nashville for much of the recording of the album and with many session musicians brought in to contribute. Like its predecessor, there were tensions during the production of Sweetheart of the Rodeo as well as some legal complications. Conceived by the initial concept by Roger McGuinn for the album that would become Sweetheart of the Rodeo was to expand upon the genre-spanning approach of the Byrds’ previous LP, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, by recording a double album overview of the history of American popular music. The planned album would begin with bluegrass and Appalachian music, then move through country and western, jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock music, before culminating with futuristic proto-electronica featuring the Moog modular synthesizer.


The Notorious Byrd Brothers by The Byrds
Released: January 15, 1968 (Columbia)
Produced by: Gary Usher
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Hollywood, June–December, 1967
Side One Side Two
Artificial Energy
Goin’ Back
Natural Harmony
Draft Morning
Wasn’t Born to Follow
Get to You
Change Is Now
Old John Robertson
Tribal Gathering
Dolphin’s Smile
Space Odyssey
Sweetheart of the Rodeo by The Byrds
Released: August 30, 1968 (Columbia)
Produced by: Gary Usher
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Nashville & Hollywood, March-May 1968
Side One Side Two
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
I Am a Pilgrim
The Christian Life
You Don’t Miss Your Water
You’re Still on My Mind
Pretty Boy Floyd
Hickory Wind
One Hundred Years from Now
Blue Canadian Rockies
Life in Prison
Nothing Was Delivered
Primary Musicians (Both Albums)
Roger McGuinn -Guitars, Banjo, Vocals
Chris Hillman – Bass, Mandolin, Vocals
Gary Usher – Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals

 

The Notorious Byrd Brothers begins with the entertaining and inventive “Artificial Energy”, co-written by Clarke, bassist Chris Hillman and guitarist/vocalist Roger McGuinn. The song features a choppy rock and rhythm with sharp, distant horns and lyrics that deal with the dark side of dependency on the drug “speed”. “Goin’ Back” is one of a few tunes co-written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and it employs a more traditional Byrds’ folk rock sound, complete with chiming 12-string guitar and polished harmonies. Hillman’s “Natural Harmony” follows as a short atmospheric song with plenty of sonic effects, including the use of an early Moog synthesizer.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers album coverCrosby’s “Draft Morning” is a bass-led protest tune with a soft psychedelic vibe and a clever use of military march and weapons sounds in contrast, culminating with a slight guitar lead playing “Taps” at the very end. King and Goffin’s “Wasn’t Born to Follow” is pure sixties folk with some Simon and Garfunkel lyrical and melodic style blended with country and psychedelic elements. The waltz-like “Get to You” was co-written by Clark and completes the original first side.

“Change Is Now” features fine guitar work on differing levels and good musical textures throughout, leading to the short country romp, “Old John Robertson”, a tribute by a retired film director. This is followed by the final two Crosby songs, “Tribal Gathering”, which offers a nice change in vibe with rapid vocal delivery, and the effect-laden “Dolphin’s Smile”. Closing out the album is “Space Odyssey”, a droning and chanting tribute to Arthur C. Clarke’s short story and Stanley Kubrick’s contemporary film.

Overall, The Notorious Byrd Brothers is distinct and inventive but suffers from very quick turnarounds as certain moods are introduced and quickly abandoned. In contrast, Sweetheart of the Rodeo is a much more focused album but the group seems to overall be outside of their natural element and musical comfort zone.

The Byrds in 1968

Sweetheart of the Rodeo is bookmarked by covers of a couple of unreleased Bob Dylan tunes. Right from the jump on the opener “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, it is clear that the Byrds are moving in a different direction with the heavy use of steel guitar, and good country melody and harmonies. The closer “Nothing Was Delivered” is a bit more interesting in its rich harmonies and cool, thumping refrain which works counter to otherwise country/blues rhythm.

Sweetheart of the Rodeo album coverMuch of the rest of this album is filled with contemporary covers and the occasional traditional song, such as “I Am a Pilgrim”, which has a vibe of pure back-country, porch country-blues with fiddle and banjo really taking the forefront and smooth lead vocals by Hillman. Other highlights of Sweetheart of the Rodeo include William Bell’s philosophical “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd”, and a couple of Parsons’ compositions, “Hickory Wind” and “One Hundred Years from Now”.

After the completion of Sweetheart of the Rodeo in Nashville, The Byrds appeared at the Grand Ole Opry but was greeted harshly by country music purists. Soon Parsons ended his short stint with the band and the Byrds finished out the 1960s as an altered and truncated rock band.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan

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John Wesley Harding by Bob DylanAfter a relatively long hiatus from recording due to a serious motorcycle accident, Bob Dylan returned to simple form and constructs with his eighth studio album, John Wesley Harding, at the end of 1967. This simple, folk and country album with a slight hint of spirituality was a notable departure from the Dylan’s previous three albums in 1965 and 1966 (Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and the double-length Blonde On Blonde).

It had been over a year since the release of Blonde On Blonde when Dylan began work on John Wesley Harding in the Autumn of 1967. The July 1966 motorcycle accident near his home in Woodstock, NY, gave him the opportunity to break from nearly five straight years of non-stop touring, recording and promoting. After his recovery, Dylan spent a substantial amount of time recording informal demos with members of The Band, later dubbed “the basement tapes” and released on a 1975 album of the same title. Oddly, although Dylan submitted nearly all of the basement tape tunes for copyright, he decided not to include any of this material for his next studio release.

Instead, Dylan went to Nashville with producer Bob Johnston and a simple rhythm section made up of bassist Charlie McCoy and drummer Kenneth Buttrey. In total, the twelve album tracks took under twelve hours of studio time to record and the release of John Wesley Harding was just as expedited, arriving in stores less than four weeks after the final recordings were made. A unique attribute of this album is the inclusion of liner notes written by Dylan, which incorporate song details through the telling of fictional stories.


John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan
Released: December 27, 1967 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bob Johnston
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Nashville, October–November, 1967
Side One Side Two
John Wesley Harding
As I Went Out One Morning
I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
All Along the Watchtower
The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
Drifter’s Escape
Dear Landlord
I Am a Lonesome Hobo
I Pity the Poor Immigrant
The Wicked Messenger
Down Along the Cove
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
Primary Musicians
Bob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica
Charlie McCoy – Bass
Kenneth A. Buttrey – Drums

 

Most of the tracks on this album were first constructed lyrically with musical arrangements worked out later. The opening title track features a bright acoustic with bouncy bass and rhythms and tells the tale of real-life Texas outlaw John Wesley Hardin (the song and album title spelled his name incorrectly). “As I Went Out One Morning” is almost too short as its fine rhythmic pace seems to be abruptly ended just as the track is heating up. In contrast, “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” is more like traditional, Dylan-flavored folk with a slight nod towards Country or Gospel in its delivery.

The most indelible two and a half minutes on the album, “All Along the Watchtower” has a strong rotating rhythm to accompany Dylan’s memorable lyrical passages which echo passages from the Biblical Book of Isaiah. This song would be brought to full realization with the much more famous Jimi Hendrix Experience version on the 1968 double album Electric Ladyland. “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” features a bright storytelling atmosphere that is almost farcical in its light delivery while at once attempting to portray a moral message. Closing out the original first side is “Drifter’s Escape”, where Dylan’s desperate, weepy vocals and soulful harmonica are in nice contrast to consistent, monotone rhythms.

Bob Dylan in 1967

The waltzy, piano based tune “Dear Landlord” starts side two with interesting chord progressions, followed by the wicked harmonica intro which sets the scene for “I Am a Lonesome Hobo”. These are followed by the rather forgettable folk songs “I Pity the Poor Immigrant” and “The Wicked Messenger” before a refreshing change of pace late to complete the album. Both “Down Along the Cove” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” were recorded during the final album sessions and each feature Pete Drake on pedal steel guitar (an inclusion which Johnston wanted to use more on the album, but was overruled by Dylan). Both of these tracks are warm, cheerful love songs, with the closer having a distinct Country arrangement which seems to preview Dylan’s next studio release, Nashville Skyline in 1969.

Even though Bob Dylan intentionally had this album released without publicity or accompanying singles, it still charted very highly in both the US and UK. Following its release, Dylan made his first live appearance in nearly two years, Backed by The Band at a Woody Guthrie memorial concert in January 1968, but returned to seclusion for much of the rest of that year.
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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.

 

Axis: Bold As Love by Jimi Hendrix Experience

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Axis Bold as Love by Jimi Hendrix ExperienceThe second album from the trio’s explosive and productive 1967, Axis: Bold as Love, was released in the United Kingdom by The Jimi Hendrix Experience in December 1967. The album wasn’t released in the United States until early 1968 in order to not interfere with the charting success of the group’s debut album, Are You Experienced?. In comparison to that highly successful debut, this second album has more complex  sonic compositions, although the tracks may not be as indelible.

Axis: Bold As Love was started immediately after the completion of Are You Experienced? in the Spring of 1967 as it was necessary to fulfill the Jimi Hendix led group’s two album contract with UK-based Track Records, a contract which also stated that both albums had to be produced in the year 1967.

The album was recorded at Olympic Studios with producer Chas Chandler, who had also produced the debut. During the first two days of album sessions in May 1967, the group recorded basic tracks for seven compositions (although less than half of these were ultimately included on the album). The recording sessions were sporadic over the next five months as the group became more and more in demand as a live attraction. During the latter sessions in October, Hendrix took on a larger role in producing, a role he would fully assume on the group’d next LP, Electric Ladyland.


Axis: Bold As Love by Jimi Hendrix Experience
Released: December 1, 1967 (Track)
Produced by: Chas Chandler
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, May-October 1967
Side One Side Two
EXP
Up from the Skies
Spanish Castle Magic
Wait Until Tomorrow
Ain’t No Telling
Little Wing
If 6 Was 9
You Got Me Floatin’
Castles Made of Sand
She’s So Fine
One Rainy Wish
Little Miss Lover
Bold as Love
Primary Musicians
Jimi Hendrix – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Noel Redding – Bass, Vocals
Mitch Mitchell – Drums, Vocals

 

Axis: Bold as Love opens with the short experimental track “EXP”, which employs feedback and stereo panning of Hendrix’s guitar, leading to the space/rock track ,”Up from the Skies”, a song recorded on the last day of recording at Olympic Studios. The lyrics to “Spanish Castle Magic” were inspired by a club outside Seattle where Hendrix performed early in his career. It became one of the few songs on this album which was regularly performed live later in Hendrix’s career.

The pop-flavored single “Wait Until Tomorrow” drew influence from The Isley Brothers and features some fine musical interplay between Hendrix and bassist Noel Redding. The original first side completes with two of the album’s more indelible tracks. The oft-covered “Little Wing” features a unique bluesy guitar progression which evolved from a 1966 song that Hendrix recorded with the R&B duo, The Icemen, and is finely decorated through the progression with a glockenspiel. “If 6 Was 9” was one of the initial tracks developed for this album and features a plethora of studio effects adding to a very psychedelic sound.

Jimi Hendrix Experience 1967

The rocker “You Got Me Floatin'” opens the second side and features some backing vocals from members of the British group The Move, who toured with Hendrix on a package tour through Britain during winter 1967, supplied backing vocals. The melancholy “Castles Made of Sand” follows, laced with philosophical lyrics, while Redding’s “She’s So Fine” offers a sixties Brit-pop break in the album. “One Rainy Wish” features Hendrix using some jazz guitar, as “Little Miss Lover” features an early use of muted wah-wah effect. The closing title song, “Bold as Love” was recorded with over twenty different takes and with four different endings before settling on a version which features drummer Mitch Mitchell with a short solo along with several more sonic effects.

While not as celebrated as the other two Jimi Hendrix Experience studio, albums Axis: Bold As Love has nonetheless received much critical acclaim as well as commercial success in its day, as it peaked in the Top Ten.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.

 

Nimrod by Green Day

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Nimrod by Green DayNimrod is the 1997 fifth studio release by Green Day. Here, the group expanded their style and sound by adding some subtle orchestration and by blending some diverse sub-genres with their core punk rock sound. Overall, this album packs 18 songs composed by vocalist, guitarist and lyricist Billy Joe Armstrong and the other members of the trio, into a relatively short running time of 48 minutes with each track having a distinct character.

The group’s early 1994, Dookie became a huge commercial success and eventually won the group a Grammy award. Green Day’s 1995 fourth studio album, Insomniac, was a dark and heavy reaction to the band’s new found popularity, which brought the band some critical acclaim at the expense of some commercial success. In 1996, the group launched an extensive world tour to promote Insomniac but this quickly took its toll on the band members and they ultimately decided to cancel the European leg of the tour and spend some time at home.

The group recorded Nimrod at Conway Studios in Los Angeles with producer Rob Cavallo, who had co-produced both of their previous two albums. Inspired by The Clash’s London Calling, Green Day wanted to create a more experimental album and branch out from their traditional “three chord” song structure. About 30 songs were recorded for Nimrod over the course of several months with a dozen or so left on the “cutting room floor”.


Nimrod by Green Day
Released: October 14, 1997 (Reprise)
Produced by: Rob Cavallo & Green Day
Recorded: Conway Studios, Los Angeles, March–July 1997
Track Listing Group Musicians
Nice Guys Finish Last
Hitchin’ a Ride
The Grouch
Redundant
Scattered
All the Time
Worry Rock
Platypus (I Hate You)
Uptight
Last Ride In
Jinx
Haushinka
Walking Alone
Reject
Take Back
King for a Day
Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)
Prosthetic Head
Billie Joe Armstrong – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Mike Dirnt – Bass, Vocals
Tré Cool – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Nimrod by Green Day

 

 

The opener, “Nice Guys Finish Last”, rides on a two chord punk riff before the bass-driven half verse gives way to a more traditional song structure. While offering a nod to the band’s past roots, there is something more definitively contemporary in this track’s sound. After a very slight violin intro by guest Petra Haden, “Hitchin’ a Ride” breaks into a repetitive but catchy riff led by the bass of Mike Dirnt with melodic lead vocals by Armstrong. “The Grouch” reverts back to a standard and straight forward screed about the fear of morphing from an angry young man to a “shitty old man”, while “Redundant” features an interesting, moderate but driving beat and descending riff pattern, making it the best overall song of the early album.

Like punk with rounded edges, “Scattered” bridges towards pop sensibilities with the highlight of the track being a wild, double kick drum beat in the middle section by Tré Cool. “All the Time” takes another sonic turn with crisp guitar riffing setting the upbeat pace, while “Worry Rock” seems to carry some heavy influence from Weezer, as Armstrong adds a unique rockabilly twang to the guitar lead.

“Platypus (I Hate You)” returns to a frenzied pace with fuzzy, sawed guitar notes and profanity-laced lyrics by Armstrong, giving way to Dirnt and Cool, who launch into “Uptight” with a strong bass and drum riff. It is almost to the point of being  faster, harder disco with some layered, deadened guitars added for an interesting sonic effect. The instrumental “Last Ride In” dissolves in from the  end of the previous track with a simple, persistent bass riff, interesting percussion and sixties-style xylophone, horns, strings and picked guitar for an overall surf rock feel and a really cool interlude to the album.

Green Day 1997

That mood is interrupted by the next punk screed, “Jinx”, with a melody seems to borrow heavily from The Platters’ “Great Pretender”. The chiming guitars of “Haushinka” lead a lush wall of sound, while Armstrong’s harmonica riff sub-divides the pop/rock “Walking Alone” 2:45 – harmonica riff through beginning and between verses of this pop/rock track. The album weakest two songs follow with “Reject” and “Take Back”, which really sounds like two sides of the same throwaway coin.

However, the album recovers nicely with three fine tracks to close it out. “King for a Day” features a ska, or even proto-polka sound, lead by celebratory, slightly out of tune horns and a really inventive blend of disparate genres which make for a fun party song, if nothing else. “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” may be the most indelible song of Green Day’s career as a simple, acoustic break-up song with minimal arrangement. This song was written by Armstrong around 1990, but refused by the band for inclusion on several albums before they reluctantly accepted it here. Although it was not officially released as a single, it would later sell millions as as a digital download and soon became a sentimental standard. The closer, “Prosthetic Head”, features simple rock with riff similar to MTV theme and crisp and clean verses with bass up front in mix and heavier, anthemic choruses.

Nimod was a worldwide hit and it reached the Top 10 in Green Day’s native USA. Through the rest of 1997 and 1998,The band launched another world tour and took some time before returning to the studio after the new millennium.

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1997 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1997 albums.

 

The Nylon Curtain by Billy Joel

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The Nylon Curtain by Billy JoelAfter much commercial success with his previous albums, Billy Joel really branched out to new musical territory on his eighth studio album, The Nylon Curtain. On this album, the artist ventures out towards more electronic instrumentation, richer compositional arrangements as well as more complex lyrical content. Joel has called this album one of his most ambitious efforts and has often stated that he is most proud of this recording.

The great success of the chart-topping pop/rock albums The Stranger, 52nd Street and Glass Houses led to Joel being labeled a balladeer or even a soft rocker. For The Nylon Curtain, Joel tried his hand at topical songs and was decidedly more ambitious in his use of the recording studio.

Along with producer Phil Ramone, Joel set out to forge a sonic masterpiece during the Fall of 1981, spending much more time in the studio then on previous efforts and employing brand new digital recording techniques. Joel maintained many of his backing band members, including guitarists David Brown and Russell Javors along with his longtime rhythm section, bassist Doug Stegmeyer and drummer Liberty DeVitto. However, several session players were also employed to provide extra synthesizers, strings, horns and percussion during the rich production.

 


The Nylon Curtain by Billy Joel
Released: September 23, 1982 (Columbia)
Produced by: Phil Ramone
Recorded: A&R Recording and Media Sound Studios, New York City, Spring 1982
Side One Side Two
Allentown
Laura
Pressure
Goodnight Saigon
She’s Right on Time
A Room of Our Own
Surprises
Scandinavian Skies
Where’s the Orchestra?
Primary Musicians
Billy Joel – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Guitar
David Brown – Lead Guitar
Russell Javors – Rhythm Guitar
Doug Stegmeyer – Bass
Liberty DeVitto – Drums & Percussion

 

The pleasant, choppy piano tune aura, complete with industrial sound effects, masks the frustrating stories embedded in the opening track “Allentown”. The song plays like a theatrical diddy, especially during the quasi-dramatic bridge section and its combo with the real themes of blue collar manufacturing towns (not just the Pennsylvania city it is named for) made it a universal theme. The brilliant track “Laura” follows with Joel delivering a John Lennon-like quality vocally during the verses and the guitarists presenting some George Harrison-like guitar motifs during the dramatic choruses. Lyrically, this song is superb in describing a totally dysfunctional relationship with all the biting energy of the day’s most vicious punk rock while utilizing incredible melody and sonic drama.

The hit song “Pressure” is a totally unique new wave rocker within Billy Joel’s collection. It is musically cutting edge with sharp synths throughout and a mechanical, biting drum beat. The lyrics speak of the dichotomy between philosophical outlook and actual real life grew out of an episode of writer’s block Joel was feeling one day in his New York apartment. The extended track “Goodnight Saigon” completes the original first side as a heart-wrenching, haunting, brilliantly descriptive ballad about the plight of those serving in Vietnam. This song is beautifully simple with a piano motif mixed between acoustic verses and it eventually builds to a chorus crescendo with marching drums. During this part live, Joel would frequently enlist local veterans to perform onstage.

“She’s Right on Time” is a pleasant pop tune that has a quasi-Christmas theme. Joel uses several melodic vocal sections and a depth of vocals to give everything a strong, live feel. “A Room of Our Own” is the most easy going track on the album, with a down-home rock and roll feel and strong drums and some creative bass by DeVitto and Stegmeyer respectively. “Surprises” feel like another quasi-tribute to Lennon, at least vocally. While the electric piano and synths are pure eighties in sound, this track has enough gentle and melancholy vibe to make it a forgotten classic.

Billy Joel, 1982

The climactic point of the second side comes with “Scandinavian Skies”, from its really pointed and dramatic intro, through the plethora of sonic treats and production throughout. Joel’s sweet melodic vocals are placed above a really cool drum shuffle with subtle piano and synths during this song’s ‘A’ sections, while the synths of guest Rob Mounsey are much more up front and dramatic during the ‘B’ sections. The lyrics speak of a journey and several opaque incidents in many Northern European locales. The closing ballad “Where’s the Orchestra?” is almost an afterthought after the climactic previous tune, but it does feature some nice little flourishes on sax and clarinet by Eddie Daniels to accompany Joel’s simple piano and vocals.

While not as commercially successful as Joel’s previous albums, The Nylon Curtain was still a smash by any measure, reaching the Top 10 on the albums charts and selling over two million copies in the U.S. alone. Joel went in the opposite direction for his next album, An Innocent Man in 1983, which had a much lighter tone as a tribute to R&B and doo wop music of the fifties and sixties.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.